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As racial tensions with the police union mount Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb responds to the union's no confidence vote of Safety Director Karrie Howard, the mayor ultimately backing his safety director

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Pictured are Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibbb (wearing eyeglasses) and Safety director Karrie Hoiward

By Kathy Wray Coleman, editor-in-chief, associate publisher, Coleman is a Black Cleveland activist and journalist who trained at the Call and Post newspaper for 17 years. Tel: (216) 659-0473 Email: editor@clevelandurbannews.com

CLEVELAND-Ohio- As racial tensions mount between Cleveland City Hall and the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association that represents the rank and file union of the city's police officers, Mayor Justin M. Bibb is defending his Black safety director after police union members, led by union president Jeff Follmer, gave the safety director a vote of no confidence via a special union vote on Monday. The union vote also calls for the safety director, who works at the will of the mayor per the city charter, to be terminated by the mayor.


At issue, say sources, is the mayor's 2023 budget proposal that includes cuts to all 142 vacant police positions, and an administrative shake-up late last year that left two of the city's five community district police commanders demoted, both of them White. Internal police firings have also upset the union and in some instances also management. Currently, two of the city's  five police district commanders are Black, up from only one Black commander when Bibb's predecessor, Frank Jackson, was mayor, Jackson Black like Bibb and the city's longest serving mayor. He too had a lukewarm relationship with Cleveland police coupled with more experience in dealing with the police union leadership team, though sources say that they got their way more with Jackson, a former city council president-turned-mayor who was skilled at avoiding controversy, aside from his personal life.


The aforementioned problem between the police union and Mayor Bibb and his administration escalated after Safety Director Karrie Howard, Mayor Bibb and Chief of Police Wayne Drummond met for a "Not Another Memphis" town hall last week at the Word Church in Warrensville Hts and Howard gave the audience a so-called history lesson and said that Irish immigrants are flooding the city with applications for police and fire department jobs.This, he said, is allegedly making it harder to recruit Blacks to Cleveland's overwhelmingly White police force.


The safety director's controversial comments on Irish immigrants, for which he later apologized and that some Blacks say are true even if they make White people uncomfortable, prompted the police union's no confidence vote and pro-cop news stories on the controversy from some of the media at the Word Church event, including the two of the city's mainstream television stations and the Cleveland Plain Dealer Newspaper, Ohio's largest newspaper. And the associated media coverage has seemingly reignited the racial unrest between the Black community and police that is so prevalent in largely Black major American and impoverished cities like Cleveland where unarmed Blacks are gunned down by police who routinely escape punishment and citizens complaints of police misconduct often go unanswered.


Cleveland and the U.S. Department of Justice remain parties to a court-monitored consent decree for police reforms that was implemented in 2015 behind heightened excessive force complaints against police and several questionable police killings of unarmed Blacks, including the celebrated cases of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014, and Malisssa Williams and Timothy Russell two years prior. Russell and Williams were gunned down in a stationary car as 13-non Black Cleveland cops  unleashed 137 bullets, and neither was wanted by the law.


The police union's symbolic vote of no confidence against Howard was 868-38 with Follmer saying afterwards during a press conference that the police union that he leads is upset because Howard allegedly violated city non-bias policies by offending the Irish community, though he was not specific on what such policies or city ordinances were allegedly broken by the safety director. The union has said that getting rid of police vacancies in an understaffed police department is ludicrous and that it creates safety concerns, and that is at the core of the conflict, sources say, not to mention the mayor's progressive approach to addressing police accountability issues, issues the Black mayor promised to address while on the campaign trail for mayor.


The 17-member Cleveland City Council, which is led by council president Blaine Griffin, a former city community relations board director with the Jackson administration who leads east side ward 6 and opposed Bibb's bid for mayor as did all of the city's sitting council members at the time, is divided over the fallout with some supporting Howard and Bibb and others backing the police union.


The mayor has said that the cutting police vacancies behind a cumulative 11 percent raise over the next three years for rank and file police officers is necessary and defended his actions while he simultaneously supported Howard, somewhat.


"Chief Director Howard works hard each and every day to keep our city safe for all residents. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience and is committed to accountability for himself and for the department," said in a press release on Monday to

Clevelandurbannews.com and Kathywraycolemanonlinenewsblog.com, Ohio's Black digital news leaders. "There are countless challenges that his guidance has helped us to navigate successfully, and I have full confidence in his ability to continue to lead the Department of Public Safety."


The mayor went on to say that "recent comments made by Chief Director of Public Safety Karrie Howard have upset and angered many in our community. The Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association (CPPA), Fraternal Order of Police Cleveland Lodge No. 8, and International Association of Firefighters Local 93 have reached out to me regarding these comments. Earlier today, the CPPA released the results of a vote of no confidence they held regarding Howard's leadership."


The mayor continued "I hear your frustration and I respect your concerns. "


The city's fourth Black and second youngest mayor whom Cleveland voters elected in November of 2021 in a shake-up election of the status quo, Bibb, 35, also said that "as the son of a police officer and firefighter, I have the utmost admiration and gratitude for the work that our first responders do. I hold the professionals who bravely serve our city in the highest regard, and this is a situation that we take very seriously."


But the mayor did not let Howard off the hook completely and said that his safety director's comments about the Irish at the town hall at the Word Church where the mayor and city's police chief were also present and spoke out for Black people were inappropriate.


"We simply will not tolerate discrimination of any kind in any department in this administration," said Mayor Bibb, who added that "my hope is that this is a situation that we can learn from and that we will continue to have hard conversations that help us build bridges and heal divides."


Clevelandurbannews.com and Kathywraycolemanonlinenewsblog.com, Ohio's most read Black digital newspaper and Black blog. Tel: (216) 659-0473 and Email: editor@clevelandurbannews.com. Kathy Wray Coleman, editor-in-chief, and who trained for 17 years at the Call and Post Newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio. We interviewed former president Barack Obama one-on-one when he was campaigning for president. As to the Obama interview, CLICK HERE TO READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE AT CLEVELAND URBAN NEWS.COM, OHIO'S LEADER IN BLACK DIGITAL NEWS.

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